Belgium is a flat land where the traditions remain present in the habits of people, a place with different colors and flavors. Even by European standards, Belgium is a small country. Traveling from one side to the other and visiting three different countries in a day will take a maximum of two or three hours by train. The famous singer, Jacques Brel, called his country, “Le plat pays qui est le mien” (the flat land that is mine). It is a truly unique country, and students won’t be able to help falling in love with it during study abroad in Belgium.
If you’re wondering how many different beers exists in Belgium, rest assured, you can taste a different one each day of the year. There are not quite as many different kinds of waffles but there are still distinct types: the best-known are Liège waffles and Brussels waffles. Belgium is definitely a fantastic country for food and drink. Taking in the pleasure of chocolate is not to be forgotten as well, since it is available in any form you can imagine: black, white and with nuts, but also with lavender, spicy chocolate, with mint. Apart from the delightful gastronomy, there are a plethora of other ways to experience Belgium, the true heart of Europe.
The best way to discover Belgium is to read a comic written and drawn by a Belgian. Many of them depict Belgian people very accurately, and as Bruxelles often depicted in comics, there is even a museum that pays homage to the many comics of Belgium. Be sure to visit the Brussels Comic Book Museum at the Rue des Sables, number 20. Besides the interesting history of comics encompasses in the museum, there are original drawings, sketches, techniques, and the explanations of some of the most famous comics, and the “Art Nouveau” architecture of the building make is a must-see by itself. Some of the most well-known comics are Asterix, Lucky Luke, and Tintin. Walking around the city you can also discover enormous painted walls on buildings with characters from the various Belgian comics too.
Bruges and Ghent - The Fairy Cities
While both of these cities are really famous and often the first stop for tourists, Bruges and Ghent are on that list for a reason. Both cities are enchanted, charming, and stunning, respectively. Keep the maps in your pockets and get lost in the magical passageways, or the “streets of water,” and do not forget to look up! The architecture is tremendous. You will discover beautiful houses, fascinating towers, and the kind of roofs that you had thought you would only see in fairy tales. If you have enough time, you should wait until sunset and contemplate the pink and red shimmer of the sun in the water. Wherever you go, you’ll never forget this image.
Ostende and the Oceanside
After visiting Bruges and Ghent, head across the coast to the small seaside villages, sit back, and enjoy the seafood. Ostende is the most famous seaside Belgian city, and boasts an impressive cathedral, as well as a huge beach for those study abroad students who love vacations. In Ostende, sun and sand are plentiful. While you’re not guaranteed sun every day, there are bound to be a few sunny days during your time studying in Belgium.
La Montagne de Beuren (The Mountain of Beuren)
In the Burning City, as Liège is called due to its thriving coal industry, there is a long staircase of 374 steps, top to bottom, which connects the city center with the old citadel which once protected the city and now functions as an overlook. After the climb, you can breathe deeply and take in the view. While the views from the top are amazing, the path you must take is as well. The most typical houses of Liège are constructed on both sides of the stairwell and on the first Saturday of each October the city places more than 3,000 candles on those steps, lighting up the night as if by magic.
The Jeanneken Pis
Most know of the famous Manneken Pis in Brussels (an original sculpture of a little boy peeing) and all tourists tend to flock to Brussels to take photos of the statue. Why not be original and take the picture with the less-famous Jeanneken Pis? The sculpture of a little girl peeing is very well hidden in a narrow street called “Impasse de la Fidélité”. The Manneken Pis and the Jeanneken Pis are near the “Grand Place,” but each one on a different side.
If you are planning to study abroad in Belgium in March, you absolutely cannot miss the Stavelot Carnival. The traditional costume is made from a white bed sheet which you wear as a cape, and a pillowcase as a hood. This costume is an imitation of the monks' habits centuries ago, when it was forbidden to celebrate the carnival because of the licentiousness of the carnival-goers, though it has taken on a different tone in modern-day celebrations. In a day meant for craziness and fun, carnival-goers also wear a mask with a large red nose — meant to represent a carrot — while dancing in the street and throwing confetti everywhere. Many even try to hit onlookers with balloons made from pig bladders!
If you're studying abroad in Belgium, the initiation rites and college parties in Belgium are not to be missed. Joining in is not so difficult if you are ready to have fun and be respectful of the traditions involved. These parties and rituals might seem weird and crazy, like the yearly party in Liège where the main interest is to romp about in the mud, but once you let go and just enjoy it, you'll have a blast.
Football (Soccer for those from the US)
After disputing the FIFA World Cup and holding on until the Quarter Finals, the Red Devils (as the Belgium National football team is called) have loads of supporters amongst the Belgians. People love football, and Belgium is full of great teams, making for quality competition. If you have time while studying in Belgium, go to a stadium to watch a football match and get carried away on a sea of black, yellow, and red.
Enjoy the Rain
However much you will pray, it will not work: in Belgium it rains, and it rains a lot. The clouds open up on average about every other day, so adapt to the situation and just enjoy the rain. It is useless carrying an umbrella everywhere; a raincoat is much more practical. Take advantage of rain by visiting museums, going to restaurants, or admiring the architecture of the old buildings shining in the rain and the sheer greenness of your surroundings due to, yes, the rain.
Talking to people
Even though Belgium is a very small country, Belgians speak three different languages: French in the south, Flemish in the north, and German in the east. Traveling from one side to the other can be a trip (pun intended) because the three languages don't often mix. When talking to Flemish, most people don’t know a word of French, the French don't speak a word of German, and so on. In spite of the divisions of languages, ideas, and cultures, the people of Belgium are most kind and welcoming. You will easily find people willing to guide you around their city, and maybe make some friends. Just talk to them; don't be shy!
The preceding are only a few ideas of how to enjoy your time in Belgium and some of the best ways to throw caution to the wind and immerse yourself in the local culture and traditions. You will be touched by your time studying in Belgium; from the first day you step on Belgian soil, you will always want to return (Check out GoAbroad’s Top Reasons to Study in Belgium Article if you aren’t convinced yet!).